It takes 2 moguls to make a ‘Tintin’

How do Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, the two titans of pop culture, collaborate on the new 3-D motion-capture version of “Tintin”?

With lots of high-tech wizardry.

Spielberg, who’s directing the first installment, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” recently wrapped 32 days of performance-capture shooting in Los Angeles. Producer Jackson traveled from his New Zealand home base to L.A. for rehearsals and the first week of shooting, and then appeared via an elaborate video-conferencing setup for the rest of the shoot, using a specially designed iChat-type system in which the Kiwi filmmaker can see everything on the set in real time and simultaneously talk with Spielberg. The film is scheduled to hit theaters in 2011.

Spielberg first became intrigued with the cub reporter and his dog Snowy back in the early ‘80s, when reviewers of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” noted the similarity between Indiana Jones’ derring-do and Tintin’s globe-trotting escapades. He and producer Kathleen Kennedy have been involved with the books intermittently since that time, but it wasn’t until the maturation of motion-capture technology that a serious avenue opened up for re-creating author Herge’s world.


In fact, Spielberg had called Jackson in his office to discuss the intricacies of motion capture -- which Jackson had used to create both Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and Kong in “King Kong.” When he broached the topic of “Tintin,” Jackson, born and bred in a part of the world that reveres Herge’s creation, yelped, “I have all the books in back of me.”

That’s the genesis of this behemoth collaboration, according to Spielberg’s spokesman Marvin Levy.

Neither Spielberg nor Jackson nor producer Kennedy would talk further, though the plan is for Jackson to take on the directorial reins for the next film. Of course, both are still multitasking away. Jackson is finishing the Christmas 2009 film “The Lovely Bones,” which he adapted from the novel, directed and produced for Spielberg’s DreamWorks. He’s also writing and executive producing the new “Hobbit” films to be directed by Guillermo del Toro. Spielberg reportedly has his long-planned Abraham Lincoln feature in pre-production, as well as the running of DreamWorks. The Tintin film encompasses “The Secret of the Unicorn” as well as elements from the other books (such as the sequel “Red Rackham’s Treasure”), which carry on the tale of Tintin’s hunt for the pirate Red Rackham’s hidden bounty.

Thomas Sangster, who played Liam Neeson’s son in “Love, Actually,” was initially cast as Tintin, but he fell out. The filmmakers turned to 23-year-old Jamie Bell, who first broke into films as the title character in “Billy Elliot” and later appeared in Jackson’s “King Kong.” Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and Kong in “King Kong,” takes on the role of Tintin’s closest friend, the friendly alcoholic Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig plays the villainous Red Rackham. The filmmakers have also imported the British comedy mafia behind the wacky satire “Hot Fuzz,” including actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson, and Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright to pen the latest version of the script.

Discussing performance-capture shooting last summer with an English newspaper, Spielberg said, “The actors have green dots on their faces and wear a kind of wetsuit, and the computer reads every movement and every facial expression.” He said computers can also manipulate facial appearance. “It means we can freeze the age,” he said. “Tintin will never age.”

Next up will be 18 months of work at Jackson’s New Zealand-based effects house, WETA. There, the team will re-create much of the look of Herge’s original graphic novels.

Unexpectedly for a Spielberg-Jackson collaboration, “Tintin” has had a tough time finding financing, not only because of its questionable appeal domestically but also because of the $135-million price tag and a deal that allots both filmmakers a humongous portion of the back-end profits. What’s more, other motion capture pictures, including “Monster House,” “Beowulf” and “The Polar Express,” have not been blockbusters.

“It’s a very easy-flowing collaboration,” said one person involved in the Spielberg-Jackson project who declined to be named. “They bring different energies.”